For some unknown reason, in this miserable winter, I was trading camp stories with an old friend when I remembered this particular incident. We were playing a form of "Can You Top This?" and my pal surrendered after this bucolic tale of camp life. "You win, hands down" was his concluding remark.
Here is the story! Don't rush me, it requires time!
It was 1958. I was completing my third year in NYU College of Dentistry. A few of the students needed more time in the clinics, to get required points, and therefore we were late getting out. It was the middle of July and any worthwhile summer jobs were long gone.
My friend Matty and myself tried the Catskill dining rooms, for waiter and busboy positions. No luck!
We finally, in desperation, traveled to Warren Street in lower Manhattan. It was dirty, grungy and was populated by what appeared to be an unsavory group of job-seekers.
Good fortune was with us. A camp in Albany needed two counselors and we were on our way. The money was a meager amount but it got us out of the hot, steaming Bronx and into the rustic, verdant camp atmosphere.
The camp bus picked us up in Albany. We had never been there before and all those red brick buildings replete with pigeon droppings caught our eye. The camp's teen-aged bus driver delivered the first bad news. "The camp is closing in three days. We had a diarrhea epidemic and the parents are taking their kids out in droves."
Matty and I looked at each other. "How does one handle a diarrhea epidemic?" was the question we asked each other.
1. Eat carefully and stay away from foods that looked tainted?
2. Try to wash all fruits, vegetables and our dirty hands?
We were young and full of immortality and we concluded it would not strike us. Not scientific, but with the optimism of youth, we attacked our jobs as counselors of pre-teens.
The activities were fun and we accomplished all sorts of athletic and camp games. At supper with my eight hungry boys, an oval plate was placed in the middle of the table. It contained a few strands of spaghetti swimming dull, in a watery red sauce. It was a portion that I alone could eat and leave the table hungry. It was insufficient. After dishing out the plate I carried it into the kitchen or a refill. "No seconds," was the answer. "The cook's gone."
After a day of exercise to be denied food was too much.
I created a scene and finally they filled the oval plate with more spaghetti and watery, dull, red sauce. The question of diarrhea became secondary - we needed food!
Two days later, after a huge, pitched battle with the head counselor we were issued our checks for three days' work. Matty got $6.08 and I got $6.74. It was pro-rated.
We headed back to the Bronx and the uncertainty of a jobless summer hung before us. Secretly we were happy to leave that place with its combination of diarrhea and malnutrition. What else could go wrong? We found out.
My check cleared but Matty's check bounced. We were philosophical and we both laughed at all our misfortunes. Matty's mother died at the age of 99 last year. She was a glorious woman who played a minor role in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
For 40 years whenever she heard my name mentioned she would say, "Greenberg, isn't that the boy who wouldn't split the $6.74 with you?"
"I'm guilty. I confess."
Any readers interested in sharing their camp stories with Stanley should e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org